This weekend, Natalie Portman was America’s Sweetheart as Paramount’s R-rated No Strings Attached plucked $20.3 million while her best actress- buzzed Black Swan rose past the $80-million mark. When Paramount launched its viral trailer campaign for the film in November, cine-bloggers feared that Strings might tarnish Portman’s award season odds.
Now it enhances them. Strings further proves that she is reliable enough to open films. Among Portman’s bows, it’s her second highest outside of the new Star Wars trilogy, after V for Vendetta ($25.6 million). Also gaining some star mojo is Ashton Kutcher, who was splattered with red ink from last summer’s The Killers ($15.8 million bow, $47.1 million domestic B.O.). Sure, Strings will be profitable: but Kutcher’s non-ensemble comedies tend not to travel past $100 million. Thus Kutcher’s demand as a leading man trails behind hunk rivals Ryan Reynolds and Bradley Cooper.
For director Ivan Reitman, Strings reminds that the helmer boasts strong comedy chops even without big-budget special effects. He also delivered Six Days, Seven Nights ($74.3 million) and Dave ($63.3 million). In Reitman’s B.O. log, Strings ranks as his second-highest opening after 1989’s Ghostbusters 2 ($29 million). Strings marks a sunny spot at the B.O. for rom-coms in what has been a grim recession for the genre over the last year. (Universal’s Dilemma held up well with a modest 45% decline.)
Paramount and co-financiers Cold Spring and Spyglass made a point hold the No Strings budget down to $25 million. The Melrose studio exercised perfect timing with Strings’ opening, not only capitalizing on Portman’s kudo heat, but by having the entire marketplace to itself. Strings faced zero competition from frosh wide releases – a scenario which won’t be repeated until May 20 when Disney bows Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Until then, the majors are stepping on each other every weekend with a number a wide offerings.
Paramount marketing pushed hard on Strings, dovetailing through the holiday blitzkrieg of Tron and Green Hornet promos, not only with its web trailer but an alluring poster displaying Portman and Kutcher in a gleeful post-coitus morning pose. Like Fox’s November misfire Love & Other Drugs ($32.1 million), Strings is a sex comedy and Paramount made it clear with its red band trailers. But Strings looks to have a leg up over the Edward Zwick comedy. Why? Strings is less raunchy: Portman and Kutcher respectively show their backsides once, versus Anne Hathaway’s relentless frontals in Love.
Women repped 70% of the audience, but seemingly weren’t fazed by mixed reviews. Nor was the under 25 set (40%) who gave Strings an A- Cinemscore (overall grade was a B). UPDATE: Cinemascore research indicates that audiences responded to the film’s premise of having sex without emotions.
Though not considered a wide release by text-book definition, Newmarket’s Peter Weir film The Way Back vied to pull in a crowd at 650 engagements, but fell short of cracking the top 10 with $1.47 million. Exclusive Media Group financed The Way Back and tried to find a distributor, but the grueling content kept buyers away despite its stellar cast of Ed Harris and Colin Farrell. In the end, Exclusive’s distribution arm Newmarket tackled the film. It’s unfortunate that The Way Back hasn’t gained much awards traction from kudo groups or bloggers as the film has been embraced by critics since unspooling at Telluride. Unless the Academy reveals that it’s a secret admirer of the film in key slots on Tuesday, the box office outlook for The Way Back could be doomed.
1. No Strings Attached (Paramount/Spyglass): $20.3 million in its first weekend at 3,018 theaters. $6,726 theater average. Domestic total: $20.3 million.
2. Green Hornet (Sony): $18.1 million down 46% in its second weekend at 3,584 theaters. $5,050 theater average. Domestic total: $63.4 million.
3. The Dilemma (Universal): $9.7 million down 45% in its second weekend at 2,943 theaters. $3,305 theater average. Domestic total: $33.4 million.
4. The King’s Speech (Weinstein Co.): $9.16 million even in its ninth weekend at 1,680 theaters. $5,455 theater average. Domestic total: $58.6 million.
5. True Grit (Paramount/Skydance): $8 million down 27% in its fifth weekend at 3,464 theaters. $2,309 theater average. Domestic total: $138.6 million.
6. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight): $6.2 million down 25% in its eighth weekend at 2,407 theaters. $2,576 theater average. Domestic total: $83.6 million.
7. The Fighter (Paramount): $4.5 million down 11% in its seventh weekend at 2,275 theaters. $1,985 theater average. Domestic total: $73 million.
8. Little Fockers (Universal/Par-Relatvity Media): $4.4 million down 39% in its fifth weekend at 2,979 theaters. $1,475 theater average. Domestic total: $141.2 million.
9. Yogi Bear (Warner Bros.): $4.06 million down 24% in its sixth weekend at 2,510 theaters. $1,618 theater average. Domestic total: $89 million.
10. Tron: Legacy (Disney): $3.7 million down 35% in its sixth weekend at 2,018 theaters. $1,838 theater average. Domestic total: $163.3 million.